Legends from the Valleys; with the Six Nations Championship Opening Today with England Playing Wales in Cardiff, Ross Reyburn Reviews the Autobiographies of Two Welsh Rugby Legends, Barry John the King by Barry John with Paul Abbandonato (Mainstream, Pounds 14.99) and Gareth Edwards - the Autobiography by Gareth Edwards with Peter Bills (Headline. Pounds 7.99)

The Birmingham Post (England), February 3, 2001 | Go to article overview

Legends from the Valleys; with the Six Nations Championship Opening Today with England Playing Wales in Cardiff, Ross Reyburn Reviews the Autobiographies of Two Welsh Rugby Legends, Barry John the King by Barry John with Paul Abbandonato (Mainstream, Pounds 14.99) and Gareth Edwards - the Autobiography by Gareth Edwards with Peter Bills (Headline. Pounds 7.99)


Byline: Ross Reyburn

They called him The King. It was a veteran of the Scottish rugby scene who once famously said that when Barry John entered a room through the door, you felt a sense of relief.

The great Welsh fly-half was a rugby genius who earned his royal nickname for his deeds inspiring the great 1971 British Lions side to their historic series victory in New Zealand and in his autobiography Barry John the King, he explains why he staggered the rugby world retiring at his peak when only 27 soon after the tour.

Basically John wanted to rejoin the human race. He found the reverence with which he was being treated alarming. Entering a bank in North wales, he found everyone lining up to shake his hand and applauding and an 18-year-old bank clerk curtsying before him.

'The fame monster just grew just grew and grew . . . That moment made me realise I was alienated from ordinary people.'

Written with Wales on Sunday sports editor Paul Abbandonato, the autobiography hardly lives up to its hackneyed cover description 'the stunning autobiography of a sporting legend'. A poor selection of photographs are dismally presented and the text is littered with some pretty homespun anecdotes.

But despite its shortcomings, the book has its rewarding moments. John for example pays tribute to the debt Welsh and British rugby owes to that great rugby leader with the masterful pass, John Dawes, and details the surprising moments of self-doubt in the career of his legendary scrum-half partner Gareth Edwards.

It is difficult to think of any rugby player with the mesmeric running ability of the ghost-like John for he had this uncanny knack of gliding past opponents who seemed to be avoiding him. John offers some entertaining insights into his laid-back approach that once saw him taunting roughhouse opponents in New Zealand by sitting on a rugby ball during play.

Just before the crucial Third Test at Wellington where the Lions blitzed the All Blacks taking a 13-0 lead in the game's opening 18 minutes, John's training routine was rather interesting. On a four-mile road run, he hid in a wood and then hitched a ride on a lorry carrying oranges.

'This was the Lions' finest preparing for the Wellington encounter crammed into a lorry surrounded by crates of oranges!' he recalls.

When he jumped out of the lorry, he saw Lions coach Carwyn James giving a press conference:

'The New Zealand press, realising what had happened, asked the Lions management what action they were going to take against me as I had refused to go on a training run. Carwyn, aware of my ankle trouble, put a fag to his mouth and came up with a classic answer. Puffing hard on his cigarette, he said 'Well, I call it initiative,' turned on his heels and walked away. …

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Legends from the Valleys; with the Six Nations Championship Opening Today with England Playing Wales in Cardiff, Ross Reyburn Reviews the Autobiographies of Two Welsh Rugby Legends, Barry John the King by Barry John with Paul Abbandonato (Mainstream, Pounds 14.99) and Gareth Edwards - the Autobiography by Gareth Edwards with Peter Bills (Headline. Pounds 7.99)
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